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A tale of two women: Paris set to get first female mayor

© Tony Todd/FRANCE 24

Text by Tony TODD

Latest update : 2014-03-19

As France prepares to go to the polls this weekend in nationwide local elections, the outcome for Paris in at least one respect is a dead cert – the French capital is set to have its first woman mayor.

In the lead – by less than three points – is Anne Hidalgo, a member of the ruling Socialist Party (PS).  Her popularity is in stark contrast to the country’s Socialist President François Hollande, who is languishing in the polls as he struggles to turn around France’s ailing economy.

Just behind her is Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, 40, known in France by her initials NKM, who was a minister under former right-wing president Nicolas Sarkozy and is openly ambitious for a shot at the presidency.

While Hollande struggles to recover from record unpopularity, any lack of confidence in PS policies was markedly absent in the capital’s 14th arrondissement (district) on Tuesday night. It was here that Hidalgo addressed an enthusiastic crowd in support of fellow Socialist Carine Petit, who is running to lead the 14th's town hall.

Hidalgo, 54, born in Spain and naturalised French as a child, has spent the last 13 years at the heart of the French capital’s political machine as deputy to retiring Socialist mayor Bertrand Delanoë.

13 years of innovation

And she is confident. Rarely talking about herself in the first person, Hidalgo vaunted 13 years of achievements under Delanoë, focusing particularly on the transformation of Paris’s public transport system, which has profoundly changed many Parisians' daily lives.

The runaway success of the city’s flagship Vélib’ bike-sharing and Autolib’ electric car-sharing schemes, as well as massive investment in new tramways across the city, have been hugely popular with Parisians and will certainly pay her political dividends.

“Our policies have been a gamble on the future of clean transport in a major capital city,” she told the  cheering audience in the city-owned Rosa Parks sports hall. “We have won this gamble.”

Speaking after Hidalgo, Delanoë said these achievements, as well as providing tens of thousands of Parisians access to social housing “in the face of rampant property speculation”, had been achieved despite “persistent and systematic opposition by the [conservative] right”.

NKM’s frenetic energy

Hidalgo’s rival NKM is a firmly established member of that conservative stable. Her open ambition and high-energy campaigning contrasts sharply with Hidalgo’s low-key confidence in the run-up to Sunday’s vote.

The difference is so marked that French daily L’Express described the race as “the tortoise and the hare”, confidently predicting a positive outcome for Hidalgo and disappointment for NKM, who has campaigned with frenetic energy.

As well as being confident that her 13-year record under Delanoë will play well with Parisians, Hidalgo will also benefit from the city’s indirect voting system, in which the mayor is chosen by the 163 members of the Paris City Council.

These members represent the capital’s 20 “arrondissements”. Socialist support is higher in those districts with the largest populations, and so more councillors tend to be Socialist.

Sunday’s vote is a first round. According to all recent polls, a second round is inevitable as neither candidate enjoys majority support among members or the city council. French daily Le Parisien puts Hidalgo's Socialists on 38 percent and NKM's conservatives lagging slightly behind, with 35.5 percent.

Whatever the outcome, the final result on Sunday March 30 will be historic.

A woman is set to take the helm in Paris, winning France’s most coveted political position, for the first time.

Date created : 2014-03-18

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